The 10 Commandments – Guidelines to Surviving in a Post Peak Oil World
by Professor Chris Rhodes
Monday, 03 October 2011
f they are not actually “commandments” they might as well be. The original set of 10 provided a simple set of rules for members of a small community to live in reasonable harmony with one another, and that is essentially the requirement for an oil-dependent society that has necessarily fragmented into smaller communities, once its supply of oil has been severely curtailed. At first sight this does seem like a prognosis of “doom and gloom”, as indeed it will be if there is no sensible scale-down of oil-fuelled activities. Indeed, a “wall” of fuel dearth will suddenly appear, and we will drive straight into it; or really be abandoned by the wayside of the petrol-fuelled journey of globalisation. So, here are some suggestions (not rules or commandments, but logical consequences and prospects for the era that will follow down the oil-poor side of Hubbert’s peak). Overall, it will be necessary to curb our use of oil in the same amount as its rate of declining supply, which it is thought will be around 2.5%/year. Clearly the depletion-rate will not be precisely linear, but certain courses of action are indicated.
(1) The real problem is that our society is based around the car. This is particularly so in the U.S., where it is (or has become) necessary to travel over significantly greater distances than in the U.K., and in Europe generally. Fuel is cheap in the U.S., and if it were not the economy would grind to a halt. I have toured extensively in the U.S., giving lectures on environmental subjects, and indeed when I was scheduled to cover 10 venues in 14 days (on one trip) I needed to fly between almost all of them (except in Houston where I had two engagements in the same city), and was amazed at how much competition exists between airlines with the consequence that I could cover about 1,000 miles for around £30.00 ($46.80). The standard price would be probably four times that in the U.K., say from London to Edinburgh, which is less than 1,000 miles, but you gather my drift. As I have stressed before, in no way are cars part of the solution to the problem of sustainable living in the oil-poor era, which I predict we will see begin to emerge within about a decade from now. I have “done the math”, and it seems clear enough that the massive amounts of fuel that we currently use cannot be replaced gallon-for-gallon by biodiesel, biobutanol, bioethanol or indeed biohydrogen – there just isn’t enough arable land to grow the crop to make any of this stuff on a sufficient scale, certainly not if we want to keep growing food. A rise in car-share schemes would be a useful first step.
(2) That brings me onto the next vital issue – food production. All farming will necessarily become organic. At the outset, let me say that I realise that growing food organically (fertilized by plant mulch and animal manure, and without using chemical pesticides) requires more land than modern forced agriculture does. However, since the means to force it – pesticides and chemical fertilizers – are made from oil and natural gas, once these begin to deplete, then there will be no alternative. Some say that if Cuba could do it, as they did when the former U.S.S.R. curtailed their supplies of oil, fertilizer and pesticides, then so can we. This is good thinking, however, Cuban society is of the necessarily localised kind based around community farms supplying local small populations. So that’s where we are heading. Rock-phosphate fertilizer is another issue, since its production appears to have also peaked and thus there is a real incentive to recycle N and P from agricultural run-off and from human and animal waste, which would also address the problem of eutrophication and algal blooms. Methods of Regenerative Agriculture and Permaculture need also to be introduced as a means for reducing the inputs of artificial fertilizers, pesticides and freshwater into farming.